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Affiliated Faculty: Quality and Efficiency in Instruction

Affiliated Faculty: Quality and Efficiency in Instruction
The affiliated faculty model, popular among continuing education units, could help institutions reduce their instructional costs while maintaining high levels of quality.
Today’s colleges and universities face myriad challenges. One of the most dramatic is the challenge to contain costs in the face of a market that’s growing evermore price resistant.

Instructional costs are a major part of almost every higher education budget and many institutions have moved to hire more part-time faculty to reduce those costs. Such faculty are commonly called adjunct or, more recently, contingent. They’re welcomed in the name of operational efficiency but also scorned by many who are concerned about the quality of their educational experiences in the classroom, real or virtual. The loudest scornful voices come from the ranks of full-time, tenured faculty who see part-timers as a threat to the status and prestige of a system very much akin to the medieval guild system.

Conveniently, we can turn to the great medieval mind of Thomas Aquinas for enlightenment here. In the same way Aquinas synthesized seemingly diametrically-opposed ideas (what is real, the individual or the universal? What is man, spirit or matter? Who was right about creation, the Church or Aristotle? To each question, Thomas slyly answers, “Both”) we should seek synthesis between the model of full-time, tenured faculty and the model of part-time faculty.

I humbly suggest we call that synthesis “affiliated faculty.” This denotes part-time status but also an ongoing engagement, an affiliation, with the institution. Affiliated faculty offer ways to cut costs so the college or university can operate more efficiently; but they also offer opportunities to maintain and advance educational quality.

What must the college or university do to take advantage of both? What follows are lessons learned from 15 years of implementing, developing and maintaining a successful affiliated faculty model in the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at Elizabethtown College.

1. Maintain standards through a well-articulated and well-implemented hiring process

We call our process the ‘faculty assessment,’ which involves candidates in almost a day’s worth of activities that are then judged by a group of assessors; this group includes faculty, staff, current students, alums, community representatives, etc., and pass rates usually do not exceed 30 percent. Be clear about the standards against which you assess the faculty candidates. It’s not a perfect tool but over the years it has proven to be remarkably predictive of success in the classroom. Your regional accrediting organization should be happy with this process, too.

2. Designate affiliated faculty leadership

Affiliated faculty have needs and desires that differ from those of full-time faculty and leadership needs to understand this. This leadership could be a dean or associate dean of affiliated faculty.

3. Develop affiliated faculty

Show you care about how they do in the classroom by holding at least two development opportunities a year. Add value to the experience by issuing a completion certificate and giving preference in teaching assignments to those who regularly attend these developments. They will appreciate these opportunities and your classroom culture will benefit.

4. Share governance with them

Affiliated faculty need a role in institutional governance. Be gracious and invite them into the club.

5. Unbundle faculty services for them

Make teaching the main task of your affiliated faculty. Break out other tasks such as curriculum development, curriculum revisions and service, and compensate separately by task. This will help you better control expectations and task completions and the costs associated with them.

6. Seize opportunities for engagement with the institution and with each other

Give awards. Have affiliated faculty dinners and events. Make sure institutional leadership is present in some way. Above all, listen to what they have to say.

Colleges and universities can be more efficient in their core operations by using affiliated faculty. In their development and maintenance of this faculty, they can also maintain and advance the quality of those operations. As with so many things in life, the best lies midway between the extremes.